Creative Aging: 65 and Better in the Berkshires

Sandra L. Burton: A life guided by dance

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HANCOCK — When Sandra Burton was 4, a talent scout spotted her potential as a dancer and urged Sandra’s mother to enroll her in dance lessons. Burton recalls that episode as the first time she recognized her own identity and talents. She knew she was meant to dance.

At 8, Burton enrolled in New York City’s Mission Society’s Camp Minisink programs, which guided her toward performance.

After graduating from high school, Burton worked as a Minisink assistant. There, she met Chuck Davis, a rising star in dance. She joined Davis’ class for young dancers, rising to apprentice, and then to company member.

She danced with the Chuck Davis Dance Company for 12 years, while earning her bachelor’s degree in dance from the City College of New York.

In 1983, Burton became coordinator of dance for Williams College’s Dance Program, now the Dance Department. During her tenure, the program grew to include more faculty, academic courses and four student dance ensembles. Burton is now Lipp Family Director and Senior Lecturer in Dance. In 1987, Burton earned her Master of Fine Arts from Bennington College, and the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts awarded her an honorary doctorate in 2012.

Burton is deeply involved with dance and cultural events in the Berkshires. She serves on the boards of Jacob’s Pillow and the Clark Art Institute, and she co-chairs the Arts Advisory Council for the New England Foundation for the Arts. She is a dance/movement consultant to the Williamstown Theatre Festival.

With her late husband, historian Don Quinn Kelley, Burton helped establish the Lift Ev’ry Voice Festival of African American history and culture in Berkshire County.

Early in Burton’s career, Thelma Hill, a founding dancer of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, urged her to serve dance in multiple ways. Burton accepted the challenge.

While her responsibility to dance is “still unfolding,” she said she is committed to dance as “a way of anchoring self, releasing self, and knowing self, and a way for communities to connect with the past, be present today and aspire for our future.”

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